60 killed in Brazil prison riot sparked by drug gang war

Around 60 people have been killed in a bloody prison riot sparked by a war rival drug gangs in the Brazilian city of ManausVIDEO: REUTERS

BRASILIA • Around 60 people have been killed in a bloody prison riot sparked by a war between rival drug gangs in the Amazon jungle city of Manaus, officials said yesterday, in some of the worst violence in years in Brazil's overcrowded penitentiary system.

The head of security for Amazonas state, Mr Sergio Fontes, told a news conference that the death toll could rise as the authorities get a clearer picture of the scale of the rebellion sparked by a fight between rival drug gangs.

Manaus-based Em Tempo newspaper reported that several of the dead had their decapitated bodies thrown over the prison wall.

The riot began late on Sunday and was brought under control by around 7am yesterday, Mr Fontes said.

The authorities were still counting the prisoners to determine how many had escaped, he added.

International watchdog groups sharply criticise Brazil for its prison system, where overcrowding is the norm and deadly riots routinely break out.

The massacre was the latest clash between inmates aligned with the Sao Paulo-based First Capital Command (PCC) drug gang, Brazil's most powerful, and a local Manaus criminal group known as the North Family.

The Manaus-based gang is widely believed to be attacking PCC inmates at the behest of the Rio de Janeiro-based Red Command (CV) drug gang, Brazil's second largest.

Security analysts have said a truce that held for years between the PCC and CV was broken last year, resulting in months of deadly prison battles between the gangs and sparking fears that chaos would spread to other prisons.

In the latest riot, a group of inmates exchanged gunfire with police and held 12 prison guards hostage late on Sunday in the largest prison in Manaus, an industrial city on the banks of the Amazon River, Globo TV reported.

Mr Fontes said that 74 prisoners were taken hostage during the riot, with some executed and some released.

A video posted on the website of the Em Tempo newspaper showed dozens of bloodied and mutilated bodies piled atop one another on the prison floor as other inmates milled about.

Brazil's prison system is precariously overcrowded and conditions in many jails are horrific. That has sparked a rash of deadly riots in recent years.

Sunday's riot was the deadliest in years. A 1992 rebellion at the Carandiru prison in Sao Paulo state saw 111 inmates killed, nearly all of them by police as they retook the jail.

In August 2014, five prisoners were killed by inmates rioting for better facilities in the Cascavel state correctional centre in the southern city of Parana that held 1,140 prisoners at that time.

The five dead included two decapitated inmates and two who were thrown off the roof of the building.

The latest outbreak is reminiscent of a series of violent episodes in 2013 at the overcrowded Pedrinhas prison in the impoverished Maranhao state where nearly 60 inmates were killed. Among those dead were three people who were decapitated.

Security forces tried to assert control later, prompting a brutal response by some inmates, who apparently ordered retaliatory attacks outside the prison walls.

A six-year-old girl, who was aboard one of the buses that were set on fire in one such attack, died from burn injuries.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2017, with the headline '60 killed in Brazil prison riot sparked by drug gang war'. Print Edition | Subscribe